Letter to the Editor

Plant evacuations

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Associated Press article "Evacuations, drills pared down near nuclear plants" [May 17, 2012] inaccurately described the changes to the emergency preparedness regulations for U.S. nuclear energy facilities that were unanimously approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission last year following six years of technical analysis, public comment and deliberation.

Contrary to AP's account, emergency preparedness programs were strengthened to require a wider variety of scenarios in the graded exercises that nuclear facilities conduct jointly with state and local emergency response organizations every two years. This is the same frequency with which the full-scale, graded drills have been conducted for decades.

The difference is that new requirements have been added to make these important integrated exercises less predictable. The new scenarios include: terrorist attacks; fires or explosions damaging large areas of a power plant; events that require activation of emergency responders but do not yield a significant radiological release; and events that escalate within 30 minutes to the highest emergency levels.

The new requirements build on existing emergency preparedness and response capabilities to add another layer of safety that is informed by the latest science on the most effective use of protective actions like sheltering and evacuation.

Bottom line: every U.S. nuclear energy facility has a comprehensive plan to respond to a wide range of scenarios. These plans are regularly tested in quarterly drills at each facility and are closely evaluated by federal regulators -- every two years in an integrated full- scale exercise with state and local emergency response organizations.

Sue Perkins-Grew, Director, Emergency

Preparedness, Nuclear Energy Institute